Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that he plans to further relax restrictions on businesses and public gatherings next week for all of Virginia assuming localities don’t decide to delay.
As the state began its gradual reopening over the last couple of months the Northern Virginia region and the city of Richmond decided to delay their reopening until coronavirus case numbers improved. On Tuesday, Northam said that he had not heard from Northern Virginia leaders that they planned to delay entering Phase Three.
Northam said at a news conference that he’s planning for the state to enter Phase 3 of reopening July 1, saying trends related to cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations and other key health metrics were moving in the right direction.
“We’re seeing a decline in people hospitalized with a positive or pending test,” Northam said. “That has been trending downward for a couple of weeks.”
Under Phase 3, restaurants and nonessential retail stores would no longer have to limit indoor capacity to 50% of what their space can hold but would still have to keep customers 6 feet (2 meters) apart. Gyms could go from 30% capacity to 75%, and social gatherings of up to 250 people would be allowed.
Outdoor swimming pools could operate with fewer restrictions at 75% their normal capacity. Recreation and entertainment venues at may operate at 50% occupancy, or a maximum of 1,000 people.
Northam, who is a doctor, said Virginians are still “safer at home,” especially if they are elderly or have underlying conditions that make them more vulnerable to the new coronavirus.
“I want to reiterate that everyone should continue to take this pandemic very seriously. Cases are on the rise in many other states. … I do not want to see that happen in our Commonwealth,” he said.
Social distancing and teleworking are still recommended whenever possible, and the requirement that individuals wear face coverings in indoor public settings will continue, Northam said.
He explained that Virginia has been in Phase 2 of reopening for a few weeks now which has been enough time for experts to monitor the state’s progress.
“[Moving into Phase 3 on July 1] gives us three and a half weeks in Phase Two where we have been able to follow the data,” Northam said. He also noted that other states have seen surges in coronavirus cases as they began reopening but health officials in the commonwealth are monitoring any potential spikes closely.
The Virginia Department of Health on Tuesday reported nearly 59,000 total cases of COVID-19, with just over 5,900 total hospitalizations and 1,645 deaths.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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